My two contested school board elections were each decided by fewer than 200 votes. In other words, but for 200 voters, dozens of frum families would not be getting reimbursement for special education and every homeowner in Lawrence would be paying $5,000-$10,000 more each year in property taxes.
On a different front, a local official in my community recently helped a frum tzedakah obtain a variance that saved it millions of dollars. As a school board trustee, I am at the very bottom of the political food chain. It is a volunteer position I had never even heard of before I ran. Yet even we are capable of delivering tens of millions of dollars of benefit to our community each year.
All of this before you get to the issue of patronage. We all know someone out of work. In these difficult times, every government job draws dozens of resumes. It is true that political parties may no longer hand out jobs to supporters. The days of Tammany Hall are long behind us. But there are things political parties can legally and legitimately do to help people land public sector jobs. There is nothing “corrupt” about this. There is nothing wrong with an organization that rewards its supporters, opposes its opponents and ignores those who ignore it back. It’s called democracy.
Which is not to say that elections for higher office aren’t important as well. Forget about Bush v. Gore, which was a once-in-a-century fluke. Every vote matters in races decided by wide margins too. Politicians pay attention to communities that pay attention to politics. A wise historian said the Roosevelt administration did so little to save the Jews of Europe because at the time there were no Jewish senators and only one Jewish congressman (New York’s Manny Celler).
The value of every vote can be seen by the actions of the politicians themselves. When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate in 2000, and won by a landslide, one community voted for her by a margin of 1,359 to 10. Four members of that community were then in jail, serving long sentences for defrauding the government. By a singular coincidence, following the election President Bill Clinton pardoned all four of them, despite the fact that there was no question as to their guilt.
Needless to say, it is a crime for a president to trade pardons for votes. But there was no hard evidence of any wrongdoing – with the Clintons there never is – and so a criminal investigation was later dropped. The point is that, even casting it in a favorable light, the most powerful man in the world was willing to put his reputation and even his freedom at risk to reward a tiny community in a state with more than 10 million registered voters.
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Chazal teach us that the requirement of giving ma’aser extends not only to giving ten percent of our money but to giving ten percent of our time as well. It doesn’t take ten percent of our time to register and vote. It doesn’t even take one tenth of one percent of our time. Registering is about as difficult as filling out a postcard and mailing it. And voting itself usually takes less than ten minutes.
There are people in our community who need government services. When we fail to vote, we fail them.
There are people in our community who need government jobs. When we fail to vote, we fail them.
And of course while we live here in safety and comfort, there are members of Klal Yisrael living in great peril in Israel. When we fail to vote, we fail them.
And so I would like to suggest the following:
Register to Vote. It may be too late for most non-registered readers to register for next month’s elections, but it is vitally important that they do so for future elections. In politics, if you aren’t registered you don’t exist. A non-registered tree that falls in a non-registered forest isn’t heard because there was no tree and no forest. In the age of the Internet, registering takes less than five minutes. All you have to do is go to the Board of Elections website in your county, download the form, fill it out and mail it in.